At the talk on Literary Agents I went to at the SYP careers conference last November, Pat White described agents as ‘somewhere between solicitors and nannies’. I was interested to hear what she had to say because this summer I’m going to be doing a months worth of work experience at a literary agency.

The agent’s role seems essentially to be to represent an author, to negotiate with the publishers on behalf of the author, to secure them the best possible deal with an editor and to trouble-shoot once the book is in the process of being published. They also often deal with selling the rights to the book to TV or Film production companies, and overseas to foreign publishers. Increasingly, too, in an age when so many books are being written and published, the agent acts as the first filter for all the unsolicited manuscripts. Many publishers won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts anymore, but will only look at submissions that come via an established agent. So it is often the agent who decides what in the slush pile is worth publishing. To do all these things it is clear that you need to have good people skills, be tactful and organised with a sound financial, economic and legal sense, as well as being creative. It sounds to me like if you can do it, it would be very interesting and rewarding work.

So last Thursday I went in to the office to meet the people I’ll be working with this summer. I got the placement through my university’s excellent careers service back in October. The meeting on Thursday was not meant to be a formal interview, rather just a chance to introduce myself and be introduced to everyone there and be shown the ropes, but nevertheless you want to make a good impression! Their office is in a really lovely location in central London, not in some intimidating glass skyscraper but behind a very ordinary looking front door above a shop. The premises aren’t massive (there are only 5 full-time staff members) but they are quite cosy and welcoming, with big displays of books, bookshelves and fairy-lights round the windows. Everyone was really friendly and welcoming, even though they were pretty busy in the run-up to the London Book Fair which is on at the moment. I was told what I’d be doing in the summer (answering the phone, writing rejection letters, reading some manuscripts and submissions and writing reports on them, maybe helping with some of the foreign rights stuff) and I’m really looking forward to it – it’ll be great to have an insight into how it all works. They represent quite a diverse range of authors – from historians and scientists to children’s authors and novelists, so I don’t think I’ll get bored – or be lacking for interesting things to read!

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